Former New Bedford Couple Survives Hurricane Ian in North Fort Myers, Florida
New Bedford has a special connection to the Fort Myers, Florida area, ground zero for the wrath of Hurricane Ian.
The second Tuesday in March is known as "New Bedford Day" in Fort Myers as a way to convene all of the former Whaling City transplants that now live in that area.
New Bedford Day was started in 2004 by former New Bedford Mayor Brian Lawler. Except for 2021, when it had to be canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, New Bedford Day has become an annual event.
New Bedford Day is well attended by retirees and others from the New Bedford area who have settled along the I-75 corridor on the west coast of Florida.
New Bedford Day began at a marina in Fort Myers with fewer than 100 in attendance. It quickly outgrew that location and was relocated to the well-known Shell Factory and Nature Park in North Fort Myers, where more than a thousand people turn out to celebrate their New Bedford roots each spring.
WBSM's Phil Paleologos broadcasts each year from New Bedford Day, allowing the former SouthCoasters now living in Southwest Florida to communicate with the folks back home via the airwaves.
Brenda Jacques and her husband Vic Robitaille left New Bedford behind on their way to a new life in paradise several years ago. Retired, the couple settled in North Fort Myers and look forward to the New Bedford day festivities each March.
Like so many from our area who resettled in Florida, their lives were dramatically altered by Hurricane Ian last week.
"We are ok. Our house has no structural damage, but there is tons of debris. The screen on the lanai is torn by roofing shingles and siding from other people's houses. I can't believe Sanibel, Fort Myers Beach, and Matlacha are gone," Jacques said.
"This was the worst storm of my life. I thought we were in a tornado. Winds picked up 30-pound plant pots and threw them over the patio. The roof and house started shaking," she said. "I said to Vic, 'let's get in the bathroom because we are going to Oz."
As of midday Sunday, the couple still had no power. Their water was restored but at low pressure. Jacques said she is "physically ok but mentally frazzled."
Let's hope that by March and the next New Bedford Day celebration, the Fort Myers area and the rest of Southwest Florida have returned to some sense of normalcy. For those like Brenda and Vic who survived this ordeal, life may never be quite the same.
Thoughts and prayers to all who have endured this horrific nightmare and those who have rushed to their aid.